What kind of sound can you identify in "Ex Basketball Player"?Look especially for internal rhyme and alliteration.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The title of John Updike's "Ex-Basketball Player" defines both the subject of the poem as well as the poem's form.  For, all that Flick Webb is exists only in the past, and it is these images that haunt the stanzas of the poem as he is defined in terms of his past fame. In the second stanza, for instance, as Flick stands at the service station, he is metaphorically now the center on the basketball team of the "idiot pumps" whose "rubbler elbows [are] hanging loose." In the third line of this stanza, too, is internal rhyme which suggests the bouncing of the basketball as it strikes with the same sound on the court as "elbows" and "low" rhyme in this line. In line 12, the last of this stanza, "all" and "football" also rhyme internally. Both of these rhymes create an echoing/striking sound, one imitative of a basketball.

In addition to the use of internal rhyme, Updike also employs alliteration, the repetition of initial cosonant sounds which serves to move the line of poetry at a faster pace. Interestingly, the second line of the poem has a speed to the first part as Pearl Avenue "Bends with the trolley tracks," but the line ends abruptly as the street "stop[s], cut off"; this line represents the life of Flick Webb, who was speeding through fame as the star basketball player, but his fame was "cut off" after he left high-school. Now, slowed down by his lack of skills, he works at the gas station and is described, in line 26, that is replete with alliteration, as 

grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball

And, with this alliteration, Updike suggests that Flick is, as in the cliche, "going nowhere fast" as he "Checks oil, and changes flats" (line 20).

 

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